An inflammation of the tonsils as a result of an infection is called tonsillitis.  The tonsils are the two oval lymphatic tissue structures on either side of the back of the mouth and the throat in a human being.  Tonsillitis can be especially common in young children.  Because recurrent bouts of tonsillitis can cause problems with breathing, middle ear infections, and other types of infections, it is important to properly diagnose this condition.  When tonsillitis continues to recur, surgery may be recommended to remove the tonsils.

Causes of Tonsillitis

Normally the tonsils are able to filter out infections.  However, when this filtering system breaks down and the tonsils become infected a case of tonsillitis is present.  Typically this condition is caused by a virus or the Streptococcus bacteria.  This condition can be spread through hand-to-hand contact, kissing, or airborne droplets from sneezing or coughing.

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

Some of the symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Sore throat

  • Swollen, red tonsils

  • Swollen glands

  • Chills and fever

  • Snoring due to swollen adenoids

  • Lethargy and poor appetite

  • Cough

  • Earache

  • Changes to the voice or loss of voice

How Tonsillitis is Diagnosed

A physician or health care professional can make this diagnosis based on the appearance of the tonsils and the symptoms being exhibited by the patient.  Typically, the tonsils will be swollen and red and may be covered with a white or yellow coating or white specks.  Also, the lymph nodes in the neck can be swollen and painful to the touch.  To be certain tonsillitis is present, a culture of cells taken from the tonsils can determine if the condition is caused by Streptococcus or some other bacteria.

Tonsillitis Treatment

First, a diagnosis should be made as to whether the tonsillitis is caused by a virus or is a bacterial infection.  If viral, treatment can only alleviate symptoms until the infection subsides on its own.  A bacterial infection should be treated with antibiotics.

Pain relievers in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents can be used to reduce fever and ease pain.

Gargling with salt water can alleviate some of the pain caused by tonsillitis.  Sometimes drinking hot or cold fluids can also soothe the pain from this condition.  Soft foods should be eaten to avoid irritating the throat. Medicated lozenges are also useful to provide relief from tonsillitis pain.

A diet consisting of rice porridge can be comforting to the throat.  Put 1 cup of washed rice in a pot and add 5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and cook just under a boil until the rice is smooth and creamy.

Lots of fluids should be consumed throughout the day when combating tonsillitis.  They can include teas, water, chicken soup and miso soup.  The diet can also consist of vegetables, whole grain products, some fresh fruits and adequate amounts of water.

To support the immune system, take 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C every four hours until all symptoms are gone (vitamin C can be taken three times a day).  An aggressive amount of zinc is also recommended to effectively treat tonsillitis.  Zinc is known to deplete the body’s natural store of copper, so it may be wise to take copper supplements when taking zinc.

For herbal treatments, the following is recommended:

  • Andrographis – Containing several active compounds which have immune-sustaining properties, this herb is also anti-viral and an antioxidant.  A capsule form is recommended as this herb is very bitter.  Do not take this herb while pregnant.

  • Astragalus – This herb works best for chronic tonsillitis as a preventative measure by enhancing immunity.  To make a tea, boil 10 g of root in 1 cup of water.

  • Echinacea – Many studies have confirmed that echinacea has antibacterial properties as well as being an anti-inflammatory and a mild anti-viral.  Take 2-3 g of dried root.  For an even more effective treatment, be sure to take echinacea with goldenseal.

  • Garlic – According to many nutritional consultants, garlic is very helpful in treating almost any type of throat infection.  Take two garlic capsules per day for tonsillitis or sore throat.

  • Honeysuckle – The flowers of the honeysuckle are used in China to treat pneumonia, colds, flu, bronchitis and tonsillitis.  Extracts made from the honeysuckle flowers are potent fighters of bacteria.  As the flowers contain over 12 antiseptic compounds, it is little wonder they are used for this condition.

  • Sage – German doctors frequently recommend a hot gargle made from sage to treat tonsillitis.  This herb is known to have high levels of tannins, which have an astringent action and are soothing to the throat.  Sage has other antiseptics as well.

  • Blackberry – The root of the blackberry, as well as persimmons, were early folk medicines used to treat tonsillitis.

  • Elder (Sambucus nigra) – Cultures all over the globe use elderberry to treat cases of tonsillitis.  This potent herb is also used to treat influenza and is known for its anti-viral properties.

  • Redroot – Herbalists have been known to use redroot for all throat infections, including tonsillitis, cough, sore throat and thrush.  Redroot can contain as much as 10% tannins.

Prevention of Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis can be prevented by avoiding contact with people who are stricken with upper respiratory infections.  Washing the hands frequently also lessens the chances of coming down with tonsillitis.

Who is at Risk

While nearly everyone can be at risk for a case of tonsillitis, those who are at higher risk are children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, individuals who have an upper respiratory infection, and those who have had exposure to the Streptococcus bacteria.



  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs,Rodale Limited (2003)
  5. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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